TV

Vanessa Williams Knows Why You Want Her To Be A Diva

The “Daytime Divas” star dishes on girl drama and aging gracefully.

In Daytime Divas, debuting tonight on VH1, Emmy nominee Vanessa Williams stars as the hard-nosed host and creator of a popular daytime talk show featuring five opinionated women who sometimes bare their manicured claws behind the scenes.

If that sounds familiar, it should. The scripted series is based on the novel Satan’s Sisters by executive producer Star Jones, who was inspired by her own experiences as an original co-host on The View.

Vanessa Williams
VH1

After her stylish stints on shows like Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives, how does the former Miss America feel about tackling another diva? Take a little time to enjoy her views.

You’ve been giving me attitude on Daytime Divas posters all over New York City. I can’t go two blocks without seeing your finger in my face.

I know! I get messages every day on social media from people taking selfies in front of my posters. It’s amazing.

How does it feel to share a channel with RuPaul’s Drag Race?

I’m loving it. I’ve known Ru for years, and I’ve been a guest judge on Drag Race. VH1 has such a great marriage of genre and glamour. I’d never done a series for cable, so I was initially concerned about viewership and quality, but now I see how wholeheartedly VH1 is invested in this show. Besides, no one’s watching network TV anymore.

Like Drag Race, Daytime Divas promises vicious reads and epic shade.

Yes, and there’s one physical encounter, almost like a dance-off, that I can’t wait for everyone to see. It was hilarious to shoot.

WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE -- Episode 822 -- Pictured: (l-r) Vanessa Williams, RuPaul -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Peter Kramer/NBCU/Getty Images

People often ask female co-stars if they secretly hate each other, which is pretty sexist, but Daytime Divas probably won’t dispel the myth that women can’t get along.

[Laughs] Well, I was just talking to my 17-year-old daughter about girl drama and how boys are so much easier to deal with. You think you graduate high school and leave all that behind, but it’s in every workplace—the whiners, people who are super-ambitious. Life is like high school, so you have to follow your own path, stay true to yourself, and not get mired in all that noise.

You’ve been an outspoken LGBT rights advocate for years. Does Daytime Divas have any LGBT characters or storylines?

One of the co-hosts of The Lunch Hour, the show within our show, is sexually fluid with no apologies. And one of our strongest episodes is when Janet Mock comes on as a guest co-host. Our conservative evangelist co-host has a son who’s trans, and you’d think she would be judgmental, but she’s actually his champion and calls him by the name he wants. She asks Janet some really interesting questions, and Janet answers them in the most beautiful, sensitive way. I’ve never seen anything quite like it on an hour-long dramedy.

You play Maxine Robinson, H.B.I.C. of The Lunch Hour. Because Daytime Divas is based on Star Jones’s time with the ladies of The View, will we recognize Maxine?

There’s more Star in Maxine than anyone else. There are Star-isms—Maxine calls people “baby girl”—and her North Carolina upbringing sometimes pops through. Maxine’s attitude and lifestyle definitely have Star all over them.

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 01:  Star Jones and Vanessa Williams attend VH1 Daytime Divas Premiere Event at the Whitby Hotel on June 1, 2017 in New York City.  (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images for Viacom)
Santiago Felipe/Getty Images for Viacom

Aside from leading the panel, Maxine is the creator and executive producer of The Lunch Hour. So did you borrow a bit from Barbara Walters?

Sure, because Maxine is a storied journalist and an icon. She’s also a mother hen, and I felt that both as a character and as an actor on set, sharing stories and advice about career and motherhood with some of my castmates.

Maxine isn’t your first diva. Why are you so drawn to strong, powerful women with impeccable style?

Well, it’s how people see me, and it’s something people know that I can do believably, not broadly. I played a diva in Kiss of the Spider Woman, my first Broadway show, but I’ve been doing those types of roles since high school. Maybe my dancing background gives my gait and stature something that signifies power and elegance.

Is America not ready to see you as an average woman who wears flats?

I don’t know, but it might be fun to take on that challenge. Right now, by the way, I’m wearing very comfy, sensible shoes. But there’s a certain ease about playing Maxine because she is aging, and it’s great to be able to play a woman who actually looks her age. I’m 54 and proud of it, so it was a luxury to not have to get all pumped and pulled for a change.

DAYTIME DIVAS- EPISODE 102
VH1

Is it easy to get into the diva mindset?

Growing up with a strong, amazing mom has allowed me to morph into her many times. If I ever have an issue, I think, What would my mother do?

“Diva” can sometimes have a negative connotation. Do you embrace the term?

I’ve begrudgingly accepted it. The working title of the show was actually Satan’s Sisters, but we didn’t want people to think it was about the occult, and I’d already done 666 Park Avenue. I also resisted anything involving divas because I felt that was played out and misunderstood, but divas are big part of the VH1 brand—I did A Diva’s Christmas Carol for VH1, and I just did their Divas Holiday special. So I surrendered.

You went right from Ugly Betty to Desperate Housewives and 666 Park Avenue, followed by appearances on The Good Wife and The Librarians, plus guest spots on comedies like Broad City and The Mindy Project—not to mention your constant touring as a Grammy-nominated recording artist. Doesn’t a diva need her rest?

It actually did feel like I was taking a nice break after Desperate to do The Trip to Bountiful on Broadway, but then, of course, we did it as a TV movie and took the show to Los Angeles and Boston.

Do you not enjoy downtime?

Bills got to be paid, so I keep on rolling.

Daytime Divas airs Mondays 10/9c on VH1.
 

Celebrity interviewer. Foodie and Broadway buff in Manhattan. Hates writing bios.
@BrandonVoss